If the premise for “Happy Death Day” sounds eerily similar a certain Bill Murray comedy where a man has to re-live the same day over and over, it’s not you. “Happy Death Day” is unofficially a remake of said movie but with a murder mystery injected for good measure. The thing about “Happy Death Day” is that it knows it’s literally a redoing of “Groundhog Day.” Seriously, it literally stops to acknowledge the fact that we’re watching a modern re-imagining of a sort. Not that that hinders the experience of “Happy Death Day” thankfully. Through and through it’s mediocre, but it charms as an engaging coming of age romance painted in the shade of a horror comedy.
What’s more is that I pretty much liked the murder mystery writer Scott Lobdell concocts, even if I kind of got the gist of what was happening mid-way. Jessica Rothe gives a very adorable performance as vapid sorority girl Tree. After a night of partying she awakens to the shrill reminder that it is her birthday, and is forced to cope with an annoying school day in the face of the fact that she’s still not coped with the death of her mother years prior. While going out for the night she realizes she’s being stalked by a hooded figure donning a baby mask, and she’s murdered in cold blood the assailant.
Much to her surprise, she awakens alive, in the same day, and immediately realizes it’s not déjà vu. For reasons she can’t figure out, she’s reliving the same day over and over and repeatedly tries to concoct new means of outwitting the killer and figuring out their identity. Along the way, she uses the weird scenario as a means of confronting a lot of obstacles in her life, and also come face to face with much of her personal shortcomings. What makes “Happy Death Day” so engaging is the meta-horror comedy tone that makes the film a consistently light affair, even when Tree is being stalked by the masked killer in a parking garage.
Writer Lobdell builds a pretty solid murder mystery overall with some neat twists and some absolutely memorable performances. In particular there’s star Jessica Rothe who is absolutely adorable in the flesh of the character and succeeds in pulling off a very layered and complex performance that allows her to begin as a vapid sorority girl and then go through a hellish journey of redemption. Rothe handles the character beautifully adding comic overtones, fun double takes, and some solid physical comedy here and there. If you can meet it halfway, “Happy Death Day” works well as an entertaining genre twist on a classic comedy. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, or take big risks, but I enjoyed it mainly for being so charming.